By Allura Garis
Though Dia De Los Muertos is traditionally a celebratory holiday to honor deceased loved ones, this year it was the start of something new for San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE). Many people saw this occasion breathe life into unacquainted campus grounds that are part of the San Diego Community College District. “It was overwhelming and beautiful,” said Alberto “Beto” Vasquez, the present SDCE Outreach Coordinator. SDCE opened a new resource center earlier this fall.
The former San Diego City College Student Government President Vasquez brings his wholeheartedness and experience of student leadership to SDCE. Vasquez introduced his team’s creativity with Dia De Los Muertos. Altars or ofrendas in Spanish are meant to welcome returning spirits, so they include both symbolic and compelling elements including a large photograph of your loved one as the centerpiece. Amidst many altars decorated by the students from the English as a Second Language Department, one exhibition featured Ramón "Chunky" Sánchez. He was known as a cultural icon of the Chicano community who died on October 28, 2016. He was 64. “We wanted to honor him.” said Vasquez. “His song Educate Not Incarcerate couples well with what’s happening in San Diego right now.” Vasquez referred to the ongoing mass incarcerations in the USA.
“Maybe we did something new,” says Vasquez. Vasquez and his growing staff of campus ambassadors hope to invite people in the future from SDCE and its surrounding neighbors to define outreach. “We will respond to what the community needs.” The department is also led by Michele Madrid Novak, SDCE Outreach Coordinator. Their purpose is to provide prospective and current students with essential information and assistance to be successful in SDCE’s academic areas and vocational programs as well as empower each individual to “feel a sense of belonging.”
The Dia De Los Muertos cultural celebration had more than 100 people in attendance, a once unheard of student and faculty engagement for the campus. The event was hugely successful due to the support of many, notably from SDCE’s Dr. Carlos O. Turner Cortez, Ph.D. and Vice President of Student Services Star Rivera-Lacey, Ph.D. “We couldn’t put something like this together if all hands weren't on deck,” concludes Vasquez. SDCE will expand its outreach programs to all campuses as an initiative to promote an increased sense of community.
SDCE serves 4,000 students each semester at six campuses across San Diego.